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Looking back on 40 years of the cell phone


January 24, 2013

40 years ago the first cellular phone was invented by Martin Cooper of Motorola ... and it was almost the size of a shoe box

40 years ago the first cellular phone was invented by Martin Cooper of Motorola ... and it was almost the size of a shoe box

Image Gallery (28 images)

This year marks 40 years since the first public cellular phone call was made by Martin Cooper of Motorola. This mobile phone was a massive device by today's standards – weighing two and a half pounds (1.15 kg) and all of 10 inches long it could only be used for 20 minutes before the battery died.

Cooper was given the challenge of creating what became the prototype DynaTAC handheld cellular phone by Motorola’s at the time Vice President John Mitchell. The very first public wireless phone call was made by Cooper on April 3, 1973 while walking along Sixth Avenue in New York City. Cooper made the call directly to the office of his rival, Joel Engel, head of research at Bell Labs who was also committed to developing the first mobile phone.

Ten years later, the Motorola DynaTAC was put on the market. It had twenty large buttons, a long rubber antenna and a talk time of just thirty minutes, before needing to be recharged for 10 hours. Despite its whopping four thousand dollar price tag and immediately being nicknamed "the brick," it proved to be a resounding success and kicked-off the cellular age.

In 1991 the second generation (2G) cell technology hit the market, after being launched by the Finnish company Radiolinja with the famous slogan: “So that Finns can talk more.”

3G hit the market another 10 years down the track in 2001 and by 2009 these networks experienced enormous demand, giving rise to the recent 4G technologies, which promise faster internet connections and advanced multi-media applications.

Back in 2008 it was estimated that one in two humans carried a cell phone and from 1990 to 2011, global cell phone subscriptions increased from 12.4 million to over 6 billion.

Not only has usage skyrocketed, but the cell phone has undergone a dizzying number of face-lifts over the past few decades, evolving from a high-priced business accessory to an essential item for modern living and a means of stimulating economic growth and prosperity in developing countries.

Head to our gallery to follow the cellular age from brick to smartphone and see if you can spot your first cell phone.

And check out the 1980's Motorola DynaTAC promotional video ... how far we've come!

Sources: University of Salford and PCSelf

About the Author
Bridget Borgobello Bridget is an experienced freelance writer, presenter and performer with a keen eye for innovative design and a passion for green technology. Australian born, Bridget currently resides in Rome and when not scribbling for Gizmag, she spends her time developing new web series content and independent cinema. All articles by Bridget Borgobello

It's kinda scary but I remember all of them! And talk about ergonomics...

Nicolas Zart

One type of cell phone that hasn't gained wide use in America (but are popular in Europe) are "Wristwatch" cell phones. I used one for years as my carrier (T Mobile) is GMS (SIM cards withyour info, number and downloads). My "watch" had 4gbs of storage for mp3's or movies. I used a wireless earbud, the cell watch would "vibrate" Android display the incomming number or the person's name if it was in the watch's phone book. Back in the '90,s it set me back $200 bucks. Now you can get the same with even more storage (gbs) for less than half the price! P. Steele


I remember them all too. I have the same feeling of old. I remember how expensive they were back then; not just the phone but also the service. It is amazing how low in price is both the phone and service has become and how portable and easy to use they are now.


OMG, I had the one in picture 2 though it had a shoulder strap

Bill Bennett

Bah! Talking about the history of cell phones as if size and battery life were the critical bits, just because that what users see, is like describing submarine history by the size of the periscope: 99% is going unseen.The brilliant bit that Moto thought up was to reverse the prevailing wisdom by reducing power in cells rather than increasing it, as had been done in radio telephony for the 50 years before that. Then the massive wireless infrastructure buildout around the world starting with analog through 3 generations of digital, was the largest communications expenditure in the history of mankind by a long shot. Wikipedia has a decent article on the basics.


Well Said !!! Dan.Magorian !!!

Some cannot see the world for what it is !

I used one for nearly twenty years, and even in the end, when the system changed My Brick outperformed the super duper latest and greatest!

Mike MacDonald
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